2009 is the year of the Connected TV

(sorry to long-time readers for the recent radio silence — between traveling and coming down with two successive bouts of some kind of flu, I have not been keeping up my end of the deal. I’ll make it up to you, I promise :)

I wrote about Yahoo’s TV Widget Engine in January, calling it the Belle of the CES Ball. I still stand by the sentiment, so much so that I wrote a very deep dive on the concept for Forrester clients which was just published this week. If you’re a client, check out the report here (and even if you’re not a client, you can see a summary at the same link). I won’t give away the precious detail here, but let me riff about the report’s implications a bit.

The most important thing Yahoo’s TV Widget Engine does is open a platform for innovation in the connected TV space, I said that before in the original post. However, the innovation that will matter most is programmer-led innovation that enhances TV viewing, by adding interesting information and interactivity over the live TV experience.

Why should content owners do this? Becuase this is the first technology innovation in a decade that will actually encourage live viewing of television. 

What do I mean? Already, there are people who keep their laptops on their laps (where else?) during American Idol or Dexter so they can chat with friends or follow Twitter conversations related to the show. NBC even encourages people to text to a special SMS number during Heroes to get special updates and clues during the show. But all of those exepriences are outside of the TV screen and therefore limited to the few people willing to manage multiple devices. Imagine if broadcasters and programmers could do the work for you, overlaying the experience on the TV screen to increase your enjoyment of the show — as well as your desire to watch it live when the online buzz is the greatest.

The problem is we have a short window in which content owners (networks, producers, publishers, etc.) can establish the habits that will favor them in the long run. If they don’t catch on quickly, they’ll miss this chance to drive *gasp* actual live viewership and instead, technology innovators will focus on widgets that deliver other benefits that aren’t programming-centric. I personally think weather, horoscope, and personal ad widgets — while of interest to specific subgroups — will never catch on on the TV to the degree that program-specific widgets will. Why? Because people watch TV to watch TV, not read the news or scan personal ads. That’s what the PC is for.

Am I right? We’ll find out soon enough because Verizon just announced that later in the fall it will be pushing an open-widget development platform to its Verizon FiOS TV customers’ set top boxes. For those who did not know, Verizon has been developing widgets since 2006. However, the widget environment was proprietary and did not allow outside parties to contribute. Verizon has changed that with this latest version and as a show of force, it has built a Twitter widget designed to automatically scour tweets to find any that mention the show that you are currently watching — change the channel, and the widget will search for and display any new tweets related to the new show on your screen. 

This is a genius move. It demonstrates the value of synchronizing widgets with live TV without waiting for the Yahoo! widget platform to find its way into homes.

If I’m right (and Verizon finds a way to let customers know about this feature — which is always a problem when you push free features to set tops, most people never know they’re there), Verizon’s 1.6 million customers will be a very attractive test best for interactive TV widgets. If you are a developer, get hopping, let’s see what you can do.

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